He was three prizes down. His hand was horrible. Gary had a fucking blastoise. There was absolutely no way Ash could come out of this on top. He frowned and clicked his tongue as he thought, staring intently at his cards. It was such a shame the destiny draw only worked on TV.
Pikachu had woken him early that morning by tugging on his hair and pillow, "chu"ing to let him know breakfast was ready. After he'd eaten, Ash had gotten dressed and taken his bike to the hospital, where he found Gary boredly flicking through a binder full of old pokemon cards. He was due to go home in the afternoon, but since there were still several hours before then, the two decided that, for the hell of it, they'd play the game to pass the time. Ash had gone out and purchased twenty booster packs, and the two friends had proceeded to select cards and build their decks, draft-tournament style. He was now losing to Gary's water-type deck, his own fighting deck barely leaving a scratch.
"Hmm..." Pikachu's ear twitched, and he and Umbreon watched the game intensely. "Okay... uhm... fighting energy to riolu... and I evo machop to machoke. Riolu uses Force Palm, twenty damage, and if I get heads, you're paralyzed." He flipped his coin (an old aluminum pikachu coin) and swore when it landed on tails. Gary laughed.
"You're so bad at this, Ash!" he replied. "Okay, Blastoise down twenty health, but I play Prof. Elm's Training Method." He searched through his deck. "Here's my ampharos." He flashed a PokeBody ampharos and stuck it in his hand before shuffling his deck. "Now I evolve my flaafy, attach a water energy to Lanturn, and use Blastoise's Hyper Whirlpool for eighty, which means your riolu's so dead it's not even funny." He drew a prize card smugly as Ash sneered and discarded his poor little riolu. "Your turn, Ashy-boy." Ash didn't reply and drew a card.
It was a lucario.
"Mew dammit where was this last turn?!" he growled. "Fuck it! Fighting energy to machoke, I attack with Strength, you take sixty."
"Not enough to knock out blastoise, I'm afraid." Gary placed the damage counters onto blastoise. "Hyper Whirlpool, again, but since it won't kill you this time, I'm flipping to discard your energies." He flipped his own coin (it was a newer plastic one that displayed an eevee on the front), and as luck would have it, scored three heads, which was exactly the number of energies attached to machoke.
"Oh, you have to be kidding me!" Ash groaned as he discarded the energies. "Dammiiiiit. Alright, if I don't get an energy this turn, you win, okay?"
"Fine by me." Ash drew a card and whined.
"Mew damn Potion! Like that's gonna help me!" Gary laughed again.
"Good game, Ash," he said, putting his deck back in order. Ash rolled his eyes and brushed a stray lock of hair out of his face.
"You too, Gar," he replied. "Is it still hurting?" Gary shrugged.
"Eh. I can't complain, it's not nearly as bad as last night, and they're probably gonna come back and hop me up on pain killers, again." Ash snorted and pushed his cards into a ziplock to take home. "So you're really gonna spy on Team Rocket, huh?"
"Yeah." He smirked wryly. "I couldn't say no, your grampa asked me to do it for your sake."
"I'm flattered!" Gary grinned broadly as he scooped up his cards. "Any idea how you're gonna do it? I mean, it's not like when our parents were kids, when they had the whole Nugget Bridge scam set up." Ash shrugged noncommittally.
"Officer Jenny stopped by my house this morning, with a note from Jessie and James- they said to stalk the back alleys of Celadon," he replied. "Mom's not entirely happy about this, but at the same time, she kinda wants me to." He glanced down at Pikachu, who smiled and "chu"ed reassuringly. "I'm setting out after lunch." Gary frowned thoughtfully and peered out the window.
"I hear the Rockets in Celadon are pretty vicious," he admitted. "I think I'd be scared to go. ...Are you?"
"The great Gary Oak, scared? What's this world coming to?" Ash teased. "I guess it's a little scary, but I'm gonna have Pikachu with me, so what could possibly go wrong, right?" Gary laughed.
"Yeah, if there's one thing that little rat has going for it, it's that its special attack is off the charts." He reached out to clasp hands with Ash, both of the boys attempting to crush each other's hand as they stared each other down for a moment. "Just stay safe, alright?"
"You know me, Gary. I'll do something stupid, get myself killed, come back to life, and save the day."
Celadon was bustling as always, and though Ash was currently lost in the crowd, he felt more alone than he ever had, before- thankfully, Pikachu was with him, and the experience wasn't as terrifying as he originally thought it would be. When he'd finally left Pallet with the help of one of Oak's Psychic-types, Officer Jenny had accompanied him and debriefed him on his duties as a spy. He was to join Team Rocket, as they had previously discussed, and make friends with someone who was in on the experiments Jessie and James had spoken of. Twice a month he was supposed to get away on his own and call Red or Oak to update them on his progress. Simple enough.
The alleyways of Celadon were places Ash had never really taken the time to explore, before. They were dark and dirty, the walls covered in graffiti, and he couldn't begin to fathom why anyone would want to do business in such a dump. Then again, he mused, this was Team Rocket they were talking about. Pikachu was perched on Ash's shoulder, as always, glancing around and watching his trainer's back. The yellow mouse had successfully spotted several pickpockets and saved Ash from losing all of his money at least three times, if not more. Neither of them remembered Celadon being so damn cut-throat.
"This is frustrating," Ash sighed as they passed through another empty alley. "We've been searching for thirty minutes, now, and not a single Mew-damn Rocket."
"Pika," Pikachu agreed. "Pi, chupi pika kachu, Pikapi?"
"No," the hatted trainer sighed, "no, I don't think shouting about pokemon battles would help." Pikachu shrugged- that was really all he had, it seemed. As they passed another alleyway, Ash peered down, and stopped in his tracks. "Hey, those guys look shady." There were three of them hanging around near a dumpster, two of them smoking. They were talking and laughing about something- Ash assumed it was some sort of illicit activity they had recently undertaken. "Let's ask them." Pikachu frowned and lowered himself, his ears drooping. He let out a mildly concerned "pika..." as Ash approached the shady characters.
"...and that's how I got him to believe my exeggutor was a ditto over the GTS!" one of them was saying. The other two laughed hysterically, one of them nearly dropping his cigarette as he leaned against the wall to stabilize himself. Ash braced himself and took a few more steps forward.
"Hey!" he called. The three before him immediately halted in their merry-making and turned, staring at him with vague interest.
"What?" the guy telling the story replied, raising one eyebrow. Ash swallowed hard and took a deep breath. This was it.
"I'm looking for Team Rocket," he said slowly. "I hear they recruit around here." The alleyway buddies' expressions changed, first from puzzled, then to shocked, and their leader's, finally, to disgust.
"Get the fuck out of here, you sick bastard!" he growled. When Ash didn't move, his eyes narrowed. "Go on! Get, or I'll sick my hypno on you, I swear to Mew!" Ash blinked. This was definitely an odd turn of events. He stared at the trio for a moment, highly confused- they certainly looked like the type to join Team Rocket, what with the tattoos and the swearing and the stand-offish demeanor... In fact, Ash was uncomfortable just looking at them. For all he knew, they were waiting for him to turn his back before they knocked him out and stole all of his stuff.
"You're... I mean, you're not...?" He blinked again. "You look like you'd be..." He scratched the back of his head sheepishly. "Sorry, I guess? But if you know where they like to hang out, I'll get out of your hair..."
"Did you not hear me the first time?!" the guy snarled. "Get. The fuck. OUT OF HERE!" He threw a pokeball to the ground, and Ash watched on, slightly surprised, as a viscous-looking hypno materialized in a beam of red light.
"Hypno..." The psychic-type leered at the duo, holding its pendulum out in anticipation.
"Hypno, use Psybeam!" the alley-dwelling trainer ordered. Hypno's eyes glowed as he focused his mental power through the pendulum, shooting a beam of multi-colored energy towards Ash and Pikachu. Ash swore as he leaped to the side to dodge.
"Pikachu, Electro Ball, and charge it!" he called. Pikachu smirked and leaped off of Ash's shoulder, firing off an Electro Ball at Hypno; however, as it was flying towards the psychic-type, Pikachu let loose a second attack- a Thunderbolt. The extra electricity charged the Electro Ball, and Ash watched on as the giant sphere of electricity slammed into the poor hypno, knocking it back into it's trainer. It didn't seem to knock it out, however- it was slowly trying to push itself back to its feet. "Finish it off, Pikachu! Thunder!" Pikachu nodded and placed his feet firmly on the ground, cheeks sparking as he charged.
"Pikaaaaaa... CHUUUUUUUUU!" The electricity leaped from Pikachu's tail, crackling as it hit the hypno and its trainer under it. The two yelled in unison before Hypno fainted; his master, however, was still awake, and spasming as the currents tore through his body. His friends, as well as Ash, watched, wide-eyed, as slowly, he stopped moving, his eyelids drooping closed. Pikachu opened his eyes once his attack was finished and turned tail, leaping back towards Ash. "Pikapi!" Ash caught him and hugged him close, though he could feel himself trembling a bit.
"P-Pikachu...," he whispered, "I... I think we... made a mistake..."
"You sunova bitch!" one of the guy's friends snarled. "What the hell?!"
"Looks like he's aimin' to be onna them Rocket assassins," the other sneered. "C'mon, let's get out of here, we need to get Ed to a hospital!"
"We won't forget this!" the first yelled over his shoulder as they carried their friend off. Pikachu nuzzled Ash's cheek.
"Pikapi, pika...," he murmured. Ash pet him quietly.
"...You think... he's gonna be okay...?" he whispered. Pikachu nodded.
"Pikachu." Ash was about to reply when Pikachu suddenly stiffened, ears perking up and eyes narrowing in suspicion.
"Pikachu, what's wrong?" At first, there was no answer; then, there was the sound of clapping, slow and measured, from behind them. Ash spun around quickly, only to be met with a gang of trainers all wearing the same black, long-sleeved uniforms- there were at least five of them. Four of them were wearing hats that cast dark shadows over their faces. The one at the front, however, was a man Ash was more acquainted with than he wanted to be.
"Well, well," came the chain-smoker's smug voice, "that was quite the performance there, kid."
"Botch!" he cried. "Wh-what- you saw that?!" The greenette scowled.
"It's Butch, twerp!" he sneered, "and you might wanna watch your tongue!" Pikachu growled as his cheeks began sparking. Butch spared the electric-type a glance and snorted. "Still carryin' around that li'l thing? Thought you'd have evolved it by now."
"You're not taking my pokemon!" Ash replied, shifting backwards to run; he wasn't stupid, after all. Five on one? He'd be down and out before he could say 'I surrender'. However, to his immense surprise, Butch simply laughed, eliciting snickers from the group behind him.
"Who said anything about takin' your pokemon, twerp?" he replied. "Nah, I'm here for somethin' else." He leaned back against the wall and dug a box of cigarettes out of his pocket, lighting up with a muttered "ember". He then paused and held the box out, offering Ash one. When the young trainer didn't budge an inch, Butch rolled his eyes and took a drag. "I heard through the grapevine that some plucky kid with a League hat was wanderin' the city, lookin' for Team Rocket. Imagine my surprise when my leads led me here, to you."
Just one Thunder, Ash found himself thinking. Just one Thunder from Pikachu and he'll be spazzing like that guy who attacked me. He opened his mouth to order just that, and Pikachu's tail lifted skyward in anticipation. Butch merely raised an eyebrow. It took Ash a moment to remember what, exactly, he was supposed to do.
"...Yeah," he finally agreed quietly. "I guess it was a bit of a shock, huh? Bet you're wondering why a goody-two-shoes like me is looking for a bunch of rattata-bastards like you."
"Hey, who the hell you callin' a rattata-bastard, huh?!" one of the Grunt snapped. "I oughta kill you right now, punk!" Butch, on the other hand, laughed.
"Calm down, Steele," he laughed. "You got guts to say that to a pack of Rockets, kid. I like that." He pushed himself off the wall and brushed some dirt and crumblings off of his shoulders. "So, you lookin' to join, or you just tryin' to give us the smack-down?" Ash swallowed thickly. Oh, how he'd hoped to draw this out. Butch looked rather amused. "Ooooh, look, gang, he's nervous."
"I am not!" Ash protested. "I... I just..." He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and forced himself to breathe. Here it was. This was it- the moment of truth. Or, well, lies, as the case may be. "I'm sick of it. Sick and tired. I want it to end. I..." Oh, Mew, they were starting to look bored. "I'm tired of being weak." Ahh, there it was. That got Butch's attention, and very well, from the looks of it. The greenette smirked broadly, baring his eyeteeth, and that sickening Rocket pride shone brightly in his eyes.
"So you admit that whenever you fought us as a kid, you only won because Jessie and James...," he began.
"Were incompetent?" Ash finished for him. He nodded solemnly. "Yeah. I know."
"Good." Butch's smirk, if possible, broadened. "You're following me. As for the rest of you!" The gang of Rockets behind him snapped to attention. "Get back to work- I want a full six pokemon from each of you by the end of the day!" With a general chorus of "yes, sir!" the Rockets scattered, each going their separate ways as they hunted down trainers with pokemon worth stealing. Ash watched them go, petting Pikachu and thanking every Legendary he could think of that the situation had played out, in his eyes, rather well- of course, any situation in which he wasn't murdered was a situation well-played.
"What happens, now?" he asked as he and Butch watched the last of the grunts leave.
"Here," Butch replied, "take this." He fished into his pocket and withdrew a small slip of slick card-stock. Ash took it from him and peered at it curiously. It was a ticket of some sort, and where it would have displayed a destination, it displayed only a string of numbers and letters. The date was set for the next day, at five in the morning.
"What's this for?" he asked, frowning. "I wouldn't imagine you guys would fly with the local airports." Butch snickered.
"Look, kid, just be at the Vermillion docks on time tomorrow and you'll find your way eventually, okay?" he said. "Now, here's the deal- don't bring any pokemon with you, they're just gonna take 'em from you and keep 'em until you finish basic. Pack, but pack light- you won't need much where you'll be staying. And when you're filling out the paperwork, just remember- it was ol' Butch that set you straight, alright?"
"Oh, uh... yeah, alright." Ash's frown deepened. "...Paperwork?" Okay, Butch's laugh was really starting to get on his nerves- and from the quiet way his friend was growling, Pikachu's as well.
"Yeah, paperwork," the Rocket replied. "They just gotta get ya in the systems and whatnot, it's not long. I guess I'll see you around, kid!" Just as quickly as he had appeared, Butch took off, and Ash quickly lost sight of him. Not that he was going to look for him, of course, no- he didn't want much to do with Butch, truth be told. He peered back down at the ticket in his hand and then glanced up at Pikachu.
"You know who we gotta talk to, don't you?" he asked. Pikachu frowned.
"Pika!" he replied. "Pipi-kachu, Pikapi, pi chu pika chu chu-pi!"
"Hey, they made camp with us for years, Pikachu." He petted Pikachu's head. Pikachu pouted, and he himself laughed, navigating his way out of the alley and to somewhere he could teleport home.
"You ran into Butch?" James' nose wrinkled in mild disgust as he asked, his green eyes weary. He was seated on a couch with both Meowth and Jessie in the safe-house provided to them by the League. It was spacious enough for the trio, about the size of the common town house, and until Team Rocket stopped looking for them, it was where they were going to stay for a long time. Ash, himself, was seated in an old, squashy armchair facing the couch at a slight angle, with Pikachu resting comfortably on his lap. As soon as he had arrived, Jessie had invited him in while James made coffee for everyone, and the already half-drank mugs were left, mostly cool, on the coffee table between them.
"I thought he'd be in jail for good, by now," Jessie deadpanned, resting her cheek on her hand. "He never seemed to be the bright type."
"Actually, dat basta'd was a lot sma'ta dan you guys gave 'im credit for," Meowth piped up. "Last I hoid, he was studyin' for da Exec exams."
"Team Rocket has exams?" Ash raised an eyebrow. "What the hell."
"Ooooh, you ruined it, Meowth." James sighed melodramatically. "Now he knows all our secrets. Yeah, exams. There's four exams, and out of them, one is mandatory, one is if you actually want to get anywhere in life, and two you're probably never going to see ever." Ash frowned and opened his mouth to ask just what these exams were, when Jessie cut him off.
"Hey, what was that ticket you mentioned?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah, that..." He fished in his pocket for a moment and withdrew the ticket, handing it over to Jessie, who in turn held it out for both James and Meowth to see.
"Oh, wow!" she said after a moment of examining it. "You get to take one of the cruisers to base! I've never gotten to ride with the Sea Division before- I'm kind of jealous."
"I forgot the old base got wasted," James mused. "I guess they moved the newbie training over to the island, huh?"
"Old base? What old base?"
"When Jess and I started our newbie training, the main base was still just outside of Celadon," came the bluenette's reply. "Viper was in charge of our platoon- remember how pissed he always was with us?"
"Haha, and we still came out top of our class in the exams," Jessie laughed. "You know, I kind of miss it all... Too bad we can't go back with you, Twerp. The GR Island really is a nice place to live."
"I... don't quite..." Ash's frown deepened. "...GR Island?"
"Great Rocket Island," Meowth explained. "It's what everyone calls da island da main base in on. Boss is loaded- he's got so many islands in da area slotted for private use dat da cops don't even know dere's a base dere!"
"If your boss is so loaded, how come you guys were always broke?" Ash smirked lazily as the trio immediately fixed him with near identical glares.
"Boss was stingy as hell," James sighed after a moment. "And to top it off, our bonuses... well... ...You know, I'll let that one be a surprise." Something dinged in the kitchen, and he quickly excused himself, saying something about cookies as he left to tend to them. The others watched him go, and it was a few moments before someone spoke.
"Ya know, Pikachu's been pretty quiet," Meowth said slowly. "Is ev'ryting okay?" Pikachu scowled and turned his gaze away from the rest of the group. Ash smiled and scratched behind his ears.
"Yeah," he replied, "he's just a little upset because I'm going to have to leave him home. It's not gonna be easy for me, either, buddy, but that's no reason not to talk to our friends." Pikachu huffed and turned even further away, sticking his nose into the air almost snobbishly.
"Yeah, they take your pokemon from you until you graduate." Jessie took advantage of James' temporary absence to stretch out along the couch. "From what I hear, they get to have their own rookie training, and they always come back changed pretty bad."
"Why don't we see if Marty can take care of Pikachu?" James asked as he returned, setting a plate of warm, gooey cookies on the coffee table before sitting on the floor in front of the couch. "He still owes us one for that time in Blackthorn."
"Oh, please, Boss' word is law to him, you know that, James..."
"He's pretty reliable, though. Look, Ash, when you get there, just ask to talk to Marty and mention our names, okay? He'll keep Pikachu safe."
"It's a terrible idea..." Ash smiled as he watched them bicker. They may have given him grief for years, but to be honest, they made pretty good friends. That, and James made the BEST chocolate chip cookies- even better than his own mother's, or even Brock's, in fact. As he took a bite of one, he glanced at his watch, and frowned a little.
"Hey, Pikachu, grab a cookie, it's time." He glanced back up at Jessie and James and smiled. "I have to go home and pack. I'm guessing the island isn't too far away, so I'll bring enough clothes for a few days... I'll be calling to check in next month, so you probably won't hear from me until then."
"Be careful, Twerp," Jessie replied. "I don't know what we'd do if you got lost to the Dark Side."
"Oh, don't worry, Jess, I'm sure he'll be fine." James grinned. "After all, you're a decent battler, Twerp- you'll probably end up doing field work, like we did."
"Jus' make sure ya don' talk ta da wrong people, okay?" Meowth added. "Try not ta let yer gua'd down!"
"I'll try, guys." Ash waited for Pikachu to climb up onto his shoulder and stood; the trio stood as well, following him to the front door. "See you guys around. Gonna say 'goodbye', Pikachu?" Pikachu simply pouted and glared at the wall.
"Poor little guy." James petted Pikachu's head. "Don't worry, Pikachu. Everything's gonna be okay." Pikachu pouted for a moment longer before giving the trio a small smile and bidding them farewell with a quiet "pika...". With one last wave, Ash and Pikachu hopped onto Pidgeot's back (the flying-type had taken the day off from hanging with its flock to give its old trainer a ride) and returned to Pallet Town to prepare for their new journey.
Five was way too fucking early to be catching a ride on a boat. Ash had gotten up at three just to get ready- eating, showering, ignoring Red to piss him off, getting yelled at by his mother for pissing off Red- and had gotten a ride from Prof. Oak and one of his Kadabra to Vermilion, where the elderly scientist wished him luck and gave him some melon bread for the trip before returning to Pallet. He was now making his way towards the port from the PokeCenter. Pikachu was clinging tightly to his shoulder, despite being half-asleep, and Ash was prepared to carry him if the electric mouse fell asleep.
Vermilion was very dark; even the lighthouse was off, and the streets were nearly pitch-black. Occasionally, Ash thought he saw or heard others walking near him, but it seemed to be only products of his imagination. Idly, he wondered if the entire thing was a set-up. Nevertheless, he continued on, never stopping, even when he passed the Gym and was flooded with feelings of intense nostalgia. Seven years ago, there was every possibility that Pikachu could have evolved to fight Lt. Surge's raichu; Ash was glad he hadn't. He wasn't quite sure if he could handle walking to his doom without Pikachu on his shoulder.
The port was almost as dark as the rest of the town, though the light of the stars seemed to brighten it somewhat. Ash was able to make out the shapes of many people standing around, silent as unmoving as they watched the distant horizon. He took a deep breath and paused. This was it- the end of being a League Trainer, and the beginning of his dive into something far more sinister. His hand tightened on his backpack's straps.
"Pikapi." Ash turned his head. Pikachu was staring intently at him. Slowly, the little rodent held out his paw. Ash stared back at him for a moment before, with a small smile, reaching up to gently take it into his own hand. Pikachu smiled back, and Ash nodded. They would be fine, as long as they stuck together. He needed no more encouragement; he made his way forward into the large, loose group of people and joined them in their wait. Some of them eyed him and Pikachu curiously; Ash eyed them right back. It was difficult to make out any of their actual features, but many of them seemed to be wearing the Team Rocket uniform, and others seemed to be dressed plainly, like everyday trainers Ash would see walking down the street.
They were silent for what seemed like centuries; it didn't seem like anything was going to happen anytime soon. Ash frequently checked his watch; it was getting rather close to five, now. Surely something would be happening. He was just starting to debate eating his melon bread when something finally happened.
"...They're here." The statement came from one of the uniformed Rockets, but needn't have been made. The sound of the approaching boat was unmistakable, and a the group stirred into a quiet buzz. The ferry soon made port. It was pretty big, Ash mused as he watched it. Definitely large enough to fit everyone inside of it, and with room to spare, at that.
As soon as the ferry docked, everyone had formed a neat, orderly line; Ash managed to get in near the front, though a couple of the uniformed Rockets had shoved passed him (rather rudely, in fact). They flashed some sort of ID card as they entered the ship, allowing the line to move quickly. The ticket master barely glanced at Ash's ticket before he, too, was allowed on, leaving the young trainer to wonder how no one had managed to infiltrate Team Rocket successfully, before. Their security seemed kinda lax. Nevertheless, he didn't think too much about it and pressed onwards, carefully descending the steps into the passenger area. It was in no way grand- in fact, it looked merely as if the cargo hold of the ship had been gutted to make room for the passengers. Ash glanced at Pikachu and frowned before claiming a corner to sit in. The metal flooring was not at all comfortable, but thankfully he had thought to brought a couple blankets, and had Pikachu assist in making the two of them a little nest. Before long, the ferry lurched and pulled back out into the ocean.
The lighting was dim, but now that he had successfully boarded and remained alive, Ash was able to keep himself calm and look around at his boat-mates. There seemed to be at least sixty others with him, and most of them found a group to huddle with. The ones who remained by themselves didn't look like they'd make for very good conversation, either- in fact, they looked downright mean, so Ash didn't want to go anywhere near them. On the other hand, he wasn't sure how to join a pre-existing group, so, as far as friends went, he would have absolutely none for the ride (not counting Pikachu, of course). The ones dressed like normal people- others looking to join Team Rocket, no doubt- seemed to integrate into the Rocket groups easily. Ash frowned at that. He'd have to try and learn their secrets later.
"Pikapi!" Pikachu suddenly exclaimed.
"Hm?" Ash turned his gaze to Pikachu, who pointed, and following his motions, Ash came face-to-face with a young man, possibly in his twenties, who was smiling down at him. His hair was black and a little messy, his skin pale and his eyes a cool jade. He wore simply a pair of slacks and a red t-shirt, and carried no bag.
"Hey, there," he greeted. "Sorry, mind if I join you?" Slowly, Ash shook his head, and the young man's smile broadened into a grin as he plopped down and leaned back against the wall next to him. "My name's Yamatto. I have a friend with a similar name, though, so most people around here call me Matt."
"Uhm... hey..." Ash shifted awkwardly. "...I'm Ash. Nice to meet you...?"
"Nah, man, pleasure's all mine!" Matt popped the top off a bottle that Ash hadn't noticed he had and took a swig. "Ahhh... I gotta say, taking the boat is way more fun when you're hammered than when you're sober. Want one?" He held up a carton containing five more bottles of whatever alcoholic beverage he was drinking. Ash couldn't help but stare for a second.
"I... no, sorry, I... I'm underage..." Matt shrugged and set the carton back down, taking another large swig from his drink. "So I'm taking you've done this before, then?" He nodded as he swallowed.
"Yeah, a few times. Usually I catch a ride back with my squad, but I was doing some solo hunting this time- oh, you're new here, aren't you?" If possible, his grin broadened. "Ahhh, yeah, you have that lost, frightened look! Hey, kid, don't worry, the registration process is easy as hell, and basic training's not as bad as they make it out to be." He continued to ramble on about how it only hurt for the first month or so and how probably nothing Ash had heard about basic was true. Ash, for his part, barely listened to what the man was saying. Rather his mind was in a constant frenzy of alerting him that he was now going to be stuck with a drunkard for the rest of the trip and would probably vomited on at some point. Mew damn Rockets.
"Matt- Matt! You're not giving the poor newb a hard time, are you?" Matt paused mid-rant and waved enthusiastically at one of the loners Ash had earlier pegged as one of the mean, unapproachable ones. He was tall and toned, wearing some odd version of the Rocket uniform that Ash hadn't seen before. His hair was wavy and swampy green, and reached as far down as his chin, blending in with his short beard. His eyes were a demonic red, and he had a crescent-shaped scar under one eye. The man sat down next to them cross-legged, resting his chin on his palm almost boredly.
"Nah, he's a good kid!" Matt grabbed Ash into a headlock and proceeded to noogie him obnoxiously. "Look, see? He's fine!"
"Ohhh, you're drunk, aren't you?"
"Whaaaaat? Nah, man, it's all-" What is was, the world would never know, as Pikachu was getting a little bit upset that Matt wouldn't leave his trainer alone. With a frustrated "pika...chuuuuu!" he let loose a fierce thunderbolt, forcing the drunk Rocket to let go of Ash as he spasmed. Ash scrambled back into his corner and grabbed Pikachu, holding him close. The newcomer didn't seem at all disturbed by the chain of events. He prodded at Matt with one foot and shrugged.
"Sorry about him, he drinks a lot. He probably went through an entire case already before we boarded." His eyes traveled to Ash, and he smirked. "Aw, don't let us scare you, kid. We don't pick on newbs often. Especially not me." He held out his hand. "Steve More, at your service. I'm Boss' second in command, and head of the Interrogation Department. You probably won't be seeing me for a long time during the workdays, so don't get your panties in a knot, alright?" After a moment to look him over and decide that, while he did look threatening, he probably wasn't going to kill him right away, Ash reached forward to shake his hand.
"Alright," he replied. "I'm Ash. I just got recruited yesterday. This is all... well... a little new." Steve snickered.
"Don't worry, I'm sure you'll warm up to it all soon enough," he replied. "Just keep your nose clean and don't get sent to the U, and you'll be fine." And, of course, nothing he was saying had any meaning to Ash whatsoever. Well, of course, there was the mention of his job...
"So... Interrogation?" he asked after a moment. "What's that all about?" Steve grinned.
"What, interested?" he replied. "Or maybe hiding something?"
"No, of course not!" Ash laughed along with him, even though he immediately felt a little queasy at the accusation. Or maybe he was just getting seasick. Maybe even both. "I just keep hearing about all these different departments, but it's pretty mind-boggling to me."
"Yeah, a lot of outsiders feel that way when they first join up," the greenette agreed. "Well, my department handles both the extraction of information from our prisoners and the disciplining of the Team members. It's pretty neat, we have nine levels of dungeons for all that, and it gets worse the farther down you go. The top execs are on the bottom floor, and we each get our own dungeon for it. You should come down sometime, if you're interested, I'll show you my medieval torture collection- the only piece I'm missing is a heretic's fork, but I've got a guy who's gonna set me up for cheap." Well, at least Ash knew how he was probably gonna die, now. He made a mental note to stay as far away from the interrogation dungeons as possible.
"Sounds like fun," he managed to say, forcing himself to smile. "I might have to take you up on that."
"Aha! Sounds like we may be making an interrogator out of you yet, kid! So, tell me, anything you're worried about with joining up?"
"Well, I have heard a few rumors about the cliques that band together from some friends of mine..." With that simple change in subject, As felt as though a disaster had been completely avoided, and that, at least for a while, he was safe. Pikachu remained in his arms as he continued to chat with Steve during the trip, and Matt remained passed out on the floor. Surprisingly, though, this leading member of Team Rocket (and possible sadist) was easy to get along with and even easier to talk to. Maybe, Ash mused, he could get Steve onto his side- some others, too, even. And even if it never got to the point where he could out himself to them as a spy, having friends in high places could never hurt.
You know... maybe his dad was right. Maybe he would make a good spy. With that simple thought, he allowed himself to relax, sit back, and enjoy what last moments of freedom he had, because according to Steve, basic training was hell.
AN: There, second chapter. Quick, choppy, still sort of intro. The exciting stuff won't be coming for a little bit, but, hey, next time, Ash arrives at GR Island, fills out paperwork, gets a place to stay, and may meet important recurring characters or get to do some basic training! So, if you're itnerested for whatever reason, please review so I know to keep working!